Laos' forestsLaos’ forests may be the key to reducing poverty in the country. The World Bank and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry created a new program titled the Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project. The project, running from 2021 until 2027, seeks to help reduce poverty and kickstart the economy in Laos. The project will cost roughly $57 million and aims to alleviate the economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic through the preservation of Laos’ forests.

History of Poverty in Laos

Over the past 30 years, poverty in Laos has decreased dramatically. Poverty went from 46% in 1993 to 18% in 2019, coinciding with rapid growth in GDP. Much of this is a result of farming reform as farmers “moved from subsistence rice cultivation toward the commercial production of cash crops,” increasing income for farmers. However, poverty reduction has recently been slowing down in Laos with a lack of new jobs to drive economic growth and rising inequality.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing even more employment uncertainty. There has also been a sharp decline in tourism due to COVID-19 restrictions and border closures. Workers have to deal with job informality and fluctuations in demand as well. However, remittances, an income source for about 15% of households between 2013 and 2019, contributes to poverty reduction in Laos.

The Role of Forests

There are several ways that the government can ignite poverty reduction, including improving infrastructure and investing in education. However, the Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project looks toward one of the main sources of income: Laos’ forests.

Much of Laos’ poverty is present in the country’s rural areas, specifically in the central provinces, which are home to an abundance of forests. The main goal of the project is to utilize Laos’ forests to increase investment in sustainable forest management and preserve the country’s “natural capital” while creating employment opportunities that will help reduce poverty. About 70% of Laos is covered in forests and nearly 70% of the population lives in these forest-dense areas. This means that forests can play a key role in igniting economic growth in Laos.

Although the economy improved consistently in the past few decades, Laos’ natural resources have not. The deterioration of natural resources makes “vulnerable rural people more susceptible to floods and droughts while jeopardizing their access to food, fiber, fresh water and income.” This degradation prompts preservation efforts to protect the forests while improving the livelihoods of the people living around them.

Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project Goals

The project focuses mainly on encouraging economic growth, which slowed during the pandemic. There are three main areas of focus for the project: conservation, tourism and production. Conservation and production relate to new jobs through investment in sustainable practices and facilities. As there is more societal pressure to obtain “good wood,” or environmentally friendly wood production, more companies are willing to invest in sustainable ways of producing wood. Consequently, this may result in nearly 300,000 new jobs in Laos.

Tourism also grows through the protection of the abundant biodiversity in Laos’ forests. Biodiversity is one of the most important, yet quickly disappearing parts of the environment. Therefore, biodiversity protection will not only help the environment but will also attract tourists who wish to see the various plant and animal species that are native to Laos, spurring economic growth.

Looking Forward

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project is one part of the 2030 National Green Growth Strategy. The project intends to utilize the forests of Laos to promote economic growth while also reducing poverty by aiding the federal government in passing legislation and designing policies to align with these priorities. The project also prioritizes gender equality, with roughly 50% of the jobs allocated to women. Overall, the project will ultimately help put Laos back on the right track to continued economic growth and reduced poverty.

– Ritika Manathara
Photo: Flickr

Vietnam's Foreign Aid When COVID-19 rates began rising in China in the winter of 2019, Vietnam, one of its near neighbors, did not hesitate to act. After experiencing devastating blows in previous years from the SARS virus, another respiratory illness, and the H5N1 virus, Vietnam acted quickly. The government of Vietnam instituted quarantines in cities throughout the country, began contract tracing within the first couple of months of the outbreak and focused on keeping the public as educated as possible. Between January and April 16, 2020, Vietnam recorded fewer than 400 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths. Furthermore, for almost 100 days after this period, Vietnam had zero cases of local transmission. Now, Vietnam’s foreign aid looks to help Vietnam’s neighbors, Laos and Cambodia.

COVID-19 in Laos and Cambodia

In April 2021, Laos and Cambodia suffered a surge of COVID-19 cases that brought concern o Vietnam. Vietnam expressed distress that April’s major national holidays would encourage a spike within Vietnam with people traveling between different countries, undoing Vietnam’s COVID-19 progress. In order to mitigate concerns of rising cases and the risk to Vietnam, Vietnam opted to extend foreign aid to Laos and Cambodia.

Helping Cambodia

In April 2021, the recently appointed Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Jakarta, Indonesia, “on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that had gathered to discuss the Myanmar crisis.” Shortly thereafter, discussions began about continued measures to decrease the impacts of COVID-19. Vietnam agreed to give foreign aid to Cambodia to strengthen its response to COVID-19. This came in the form of a $500,000 donation, “800 respirators, two million medical masks and 300,000 N95 masks.” In this act of aid, Vietnam expresses its close diplomatic relations with Cambodia.

Assisting Laos

Similar discussions also took place with Laos. In anticipation of more cross-border travel because of holiday festivities, Vietnam also offered foreign aid to Laos to strengthen its COVID-19 response. In a similar fashion to Cambodia, Laos also experienced a spike in cases toward the end of April 2021, however, the total number of deaths remains low at just five deaths.

According to The Laotian Times, in early May 2021, the Vietnamese government gave Laos $500,000 as well as medical resources and the support of 35 medical staff to help the country in its fight against COVID-19. The medical workers and resources from Vietnam arrived in Laos at Wattay International Airport. The medical supplies included “200 respirators, 10,000 kilograms of chloramine and two million face masks.”

A Beacon of Hope

Vietnam’s success against COVID-19 is a source of pride for the country. Vietnam’s COVID-19 response has also served as an inspiration to neighboring countries. The tactics put in place early on by the Vietnamese government helped facilitate its success in subsequent months when cases were rising elsewhere. Vietnam’s foreign aid during COVID-19 is helping its neighbors regain hope in recovery. Hopefully, as Vietnam’s foreign aid of both monetary stimulus and medical assistance helps countries recover, other countries will be inspired to reach out a helping hand as well.

– Grace Parker
Photo: Flickr

International Poverty Reduction Center in China
The Chinese government, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other organizations founded the International Poverty Reduction Center in China (IPRCC) in 2004. Its goal is to allow for the sharing of knowledge and information to reduce poverty and encourage development throughout the world. It also engages in research on international poverty reduction theories and practices and provides reviews of China’s poverty reduction policies. While its work extends beyond Asia, it participates in poverty reduction in Southeast Asia and takes part in ASEAN forums and conferences.

What the International Poverty Reduction Center (IPRCC) Does

One of the major issues of programs seeking to help raise people out of poverty is that they rely too much on giving people what they need today, rather than ensuring they have the resources and knowledge to provide for tomorrow. The International Poverty Reduction Center is trying to prevent this by focusing on involvement at the village level. It pays attention to ensuring those on the ground have the knowledge, resources and ability to continue to grow sustainably even after the IPRCC leaves.

The Ban Xor Example

In December 2016, Ban Xor, Laos became the site for the pilot program of the IPRCC. There were 2,007 residents at the time and half lived on less than $700 a year. The goal of the involvement in Ban Xor is to share knowledge of farming techniques, assist in the construction of public infrastructure and give people market access to sell their products. The emphasis is on using China’s experiences to help others as well as sharing information between both the Chinese and Lao teams. The Chinese experts learned what people in Ban Xor required and what their living situation was like, and the Lao executives’ team learned management methods as well as how to tackle poverty issues based on China’s experiences.

As a result of this program, the people of Ban Xor have improved their corn and cattle farming techniques and have been able to increase their yields. Additionally, women have been able to sell their traditional weaving to Chinese buyers. Some of the infrastructural changes include the building of a bridge to allow easier travel throughout the village at all times of the year. Furthermore, they constructed a school, which caters to students from kindergarten through secondary school, with 60 teachers and 550 students as of 2019. This school includes a playground and places for people to live. As education is one of the best ways to lift people out of poverty and ensures that the next generation will be better off than the current, this is a vital part of this program.

The use of both “hard methods,” such as building roads, bridges and schools and “soft methods,” such as knowledge sharing, is vital. These methods provide the people with the groundwork and the knowledge needed for sustainable development.

The Importance of the Program

While this program is still ongoing and the results of such programs can take years or even decades to come to fruition, changes have already occurred in Ban Xor and other villages to improve the quality of life.

China is still a developing country but has made incredible strides in decreasing poverty within its own country. In 1990, two-thirds of the population was living below the international poverty line. By 2016, it was only 0.5% of the population. That is not to say that there is no inequality in China, but more to show how quickly China has been able to increase the standard of living. This rapid growth has given Chinese poverty reduction experts the knowledge and experience to help others in the region and globally.

Countries like Laos have been steadily decreasing the number of people living in poverty, due in part to programs such as this which facilitate knowledge sharing and encourage people on the ground to make sustainable change. Regional cooperation is vital to ensuring stability and sustainable growth and this program is just one example of how a country can go from a major aid recipient to a major aid donor and help bring change to a region.

– Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Laos' Fight Against COVID-19
Laos has been one of the few success stories in containing COVID-19 and mitigating its worst effects. However, a recent spike has caused widespread worry about the government’s ability to maintain low infection rates. Nonetheless, the Vietnamese government has stepped in to provide expert and material support to its neighbor. As Vietnam supports Laos’ fight against COVID-19, it stands as an example to the rest of the world regarding supporting other countries in need.

Laos and COVID-19

Until recently, Laos was a shining example of how to contain the virus successfully. Between Laos’ first reported case on March 24, 2020, and April 18, 2021, the Southeast Asian nation had a total of 58 reported cases and zero deaths. The government achieved incredible numbers by acting swiftly. Almost immediately, Laos officials instituted a nationwide lockdown and provincial lockdowns and developed a rigorous testing system for migrant workers and travelers.

However, the rigorous response came with a significant cost to the economy as tourism and remittance plummeted. According to the World Bank, the expected GDP growth will be its lowest in more than three decades at 0.4%. Moreover, the unemployment rate is a staggering 23% while the public external stock has increased to 65% of GDP. The debt levels had gotten so out of hand, the government had to sign a 25-year concession of its electrical grid to a majority Chinese-owned company.

Nevertheless, the government sacrificed economic growth to save countless lives. The severity of the dichotomy becomes apparent when looking closer at Laos’ healthcare system. For example, the Global Health Security Index ranks Laos 92nd regarding “health capacity in clinics, hospitals, and community care centers.” Moreover, it ranks the country 101st regarding ease of access to healthcare and 116th in “capacity to test and approve new medical countermeasures.” Innovativeness and access are vital to dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. 

The Recent Spike of COVID-19 Cases

Although reports have not determined any deaths, the total cases jumped from 60 on April 20, 2021, to 933 just a few weeks later. The incredible jump came as the average cases per day rose to 87.

What makes the situation more worrisome is that Laos has only administered 184,387 COVID-19 vaccines in total. With a population of 7.5 million, only 1.34% of the population has obtained vaccines. The government is administering about 4,424 doses a day. At the current rate, it will take another 325 days before about 10% of the population receives vaccinations.

The spike has its origins in its neighbor Thailand who has struggled to contain the virus. On April 21, 2021, Laos reported 28 cases of COVID-19 infections in its capital. All 28 cases occurred via Thailand. About 26 cases were from residents of Vientiane who had contact with a student carrying the infection from a Thai man. The remaining two cases involved migrant workers who had recently returned from Thailand. 

Vietnam Provides Assistance

In late April 2021, the Vietnamese Minister of Health, Nguyen Than Long announced that the Vietnamese government would donate 200 ventilators, two million masks, 10 tons of ChlorominB and other supplies to aid Laos’ fight against COVID-19 and prevent the outbreak from getting worse. Along with supplies, the government will send experts to help contain the virus. It will also assist Laos officials in setting up a rapid testing system. In total, the Vietnamese government has announced that it will send 35 doctors and experts on May 4 to help with diagnosis, treatment and the construction of field hospitals. 

Vietnamese support comes with demonstrated success in managing the pandemic. Overall, Vietnam has experienced 2,962 infections and 35 deaths. Notably, Vietnam was able to relatively contain the virus without sacrificing its economy. In 2020, its economy grew by 2.9%, and in 2021, expectations have determined that it could reach a growth of 6.6%.

Looking Ahead

Nevertheless, Laos has a long way to go in curbing the recent spike in infections. Preventing an increase in infections from overrunning the healthcare system and turning into a full-blown crisis will require decisive action. With a rudimentary healthcare system that has undergone economic exhaustion, assistance from Vietnam is critical in its struggle against the pandemic. As Vietnam supports Laos’ fight against COVID-19, it provides an important example for other countries helping those struggling in the pandemic.

 – Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr 

Laos’ Economy
The Southeast Asian nation of Laos has a heavily agricultural economy with substantial income from tourism, logging and other natural resources. Although poverty has been reducing across Laos, the distribution of incoming wealth has been unequal. Laos’ beautiful and resource-rich forests are key to building economic strength and sustainable development.

In January 2021, the World Bank approved $57.37 million for the Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods project. This project will involve forest management guidance, small business training, Laotian forest management agencies, villages and small business owners to create plans for forest conservation and economic growth.

Tourism

Laos’ economy relies on its beautiful forest landscapes to draw in tourists. The majority of tourists who come to Laos are from neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, but half of the income from tourism comes from distant international travelers.

Though tourism in Laos is on an upward trend, it could improve with better infrastructure, staffing and management of tourism-based businesses. The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods project includes training for small business owners and those in the tourism industry to improve their business strategies and bring in more income.

Forestry

Laotians use natural resources both for industry and for sustenance, with forestry as their second-largest economic sector, primarily exporting lumber to Vietnam. Unfortunately, loopholes and poor landscape management allow the government to approve many unsustainable logging projects.

Laos’ landscape offers opportunities for growing more high-quality timber to increase logging income without the destruction of forests. The World Bank plans to collaborate with forest management agencies and businesses to incentivize and incorporate more sustainable business practices that will boost Laos’ economy.

Sustainability

In addition to food, tourism and logging, the forests of Laos also protect villages from floods and soil erosion. The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods project includes funding for experts to work with forest management agencies to develop more effective wildlife protection policy, as well as funding for forest-friendly infrastructure and livelihood training within targeted villages. World Bank officials will encourage village members to engage in sustainable projects such as weaving, fishponds, home gardens, bamboo production and black chicken raising.

Impact

The World Bank will directly support 600 Laotian villages with 400,000 residents living in targeted protected areas. The programs will go toward addressing gender inequality including the pay gap, focusing livelihood training towards women and with earmarked funding for the most vulnerable community members including the poor and ethnic minorities.

The goal of the Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods project is to protect the natural landscape that benefits all Laotians and reduce income inequality by providing improved economic opportunities for small business owners and impoverished residents. Focusing on the most vulnerable villagers will improve livelihood opportunities for low-income areas. With better tourism management, high-quality timber growing, sustainable forest policy and improved village infrastructure, Laos’ economy can grow and better serve the entire population.

– Elise Brehob
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Mortality LaosIt is hard to imagine how giving birth can be fatal to so many women around the world. However, even in 2021, maternal mortality remains a significant issue, especially in developing countries where modern medicine is scarce and medical facilities are not easily accessible. Fortunately, these maternal mortality rates have been dropping all over the world, especially in Laos.

Birth Complications in Laos

Laos, or Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is a landlocked nation between Thailand and Vietnam. With a population of 7.2 million, the country suffers from a declining fertility rate. In 2020, women in Laos had an average of 2.7 children, yet this rate was more than doubled just 30 years ago. In addition to infertility, women in Laos are at a greater risk for birth complications. According to the U.N., a mother’s risk of dying in Laos due to delivery and post-delivery complications is one in 150. This number is especially alarming when compared to statistics in Europe, where a woman’s risk of death is one in 3,400.

Declining Maternal Mortality Rates

Since the turn of the millennium, maternal mortality rates have dropped significantly all over the world due to the spread of modern medicine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the maternal mortality ratio dropped by approximately 38% worldwide in less than 20 years. Similar encouraging statistics are emerging from Laos. Eksavang Vongvichit, the nation’s former health minister, discusses Laos’s progress in tackling this issue: “We’re in third place worldwide in terms of bringing down the maternal mortality rate… We’ve brought down the number of maternal deaths from 450 out of 100,000 live births down to 220.”

The Ongoing Fight Against Maternal Mortality in Laos

Maternal mortality is a more frequent reality in developing countries. On average, women in low-to-middle-income countries more likely to die during or immediately after pregnancy than women in developed nations. This is largely because many birth-related deaths result from easily preventable causes, including severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure, complications from delivery and unsafe abortions.

To prevent such avoidable deaths, numerous charities and NGOs are working on better educating reproductive healthcare workers in developing nations. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is a prime example of this work, being stationed in Laos and other developing nations all over the globe. In Laos, the program helped the Ministry of Health create better training programs for volunteers and midwives in reproductive care. This education includes bringing awareness to mothers about proper family planning, which covers how long to space out pregnancies and prevent undesired pregnancies. Not only will such education prevent unnecessary fatalities, but it will also aid families in properly planning for the future to break the cycle of poverty.

With the continued implementation of modern medicine and reproductive education in developing countries, there is great hope that the rate of maternal deaths will continue to decline in Laos.

– Amanda J. Godfrey
Photo: Unsplash

Road Construction Project in Laos
The Southeast Asian country Laos has been successful in reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty. However, about 25% of the 7 million people still live in poverty, while only 20% live on more than $2.50 a day. The majority of the people living in poverty reside in rural areas where there is a lack of roads and necessities. The Road Maintenance Group (RMG) program in Laos has bettered the country’s infrastructure by improving roads in rural areas. In addition to addressing insufficient roads, the program has provided more jobs, especially for women, as the initiative works to help expand job opportunities. As a result, the road construction project in Laos helped reduce poverty.

The Poverty Reducing Results

With the help of funding from the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Fund, the Road Maintenance Group program was able to reduce the amount of poverty in the rural areas of Laos. The program increased the chances of women becoming employed with stable income by 70% after being a part of the program. There was also an increase in people’s monthly wages due to gaining experience under the program. The RGM had produced a 75%-90% increase in income gains from participants compared to the 30%-40% range from other public work programs.

Future Road Construction Projects

The recent success of the year-long road construction project in Laos is not a one-time thing. The constant floods, heatwaves and landslides tend to destroy Laos’ roads. The damage to the roads from these weather conditions affects Laotians who do not have a safe and efficient way to access food markets, healthcare and jobs. The Lao government has approved the reconstruction of the National 13 Road. This road is the most heavily used as it is one of the largest roads in Laos, stretching from the northernmost to southernmost areas of the country. Since National Road 13 is the most important road, the project will be greater than the RGM programs, producing a better job outlook and reducing poverty. The project will also help the country’s economy as it is greatly dependent on road transportation for trade and imports.

The total funding allocated for this project is $40 million from both the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which will provide safer infrastructure and jobs to reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty.

Looking Forward

There is a growing need for stable and safe roads with the constant erosion that flooding caused. The roads are the main source of transportation for Laotians, and a lack of reliable roads limits the number of people who have access to the necessary services for their basic needs. Road transportation is also a crucial form of transportation for the people of Laos and the economy since land mostly surrounds the country and it does not have any seaports. The road construction project in Laos helps reduce poverty by providing the country with a reliable source of transportation and expanding the job opportunities for the people of communities living in poverty.

– Zahlea Martin
Photo: Flickr

Located in Southeast Asia, Laos is the country around seven million people call home. Despite the multitude of people that reside in Laos, the country’s healthcare system does not sufficiently support all those who live there. As a nation that was once colonized by France, Laos was left in a state of dependency towards wealthier countries, as colonization and poverty oftentimes go hand in hand.

Since Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia, healthcare is a struggle that many have to endure on top of other poor living conditions. Insufficient government funding affects how low spending on healthcare is in Laos. Since public spending towards healthcare is low, people have to rely on out-of-pocket options and external financing rather than having comprehensive healthcare covered by the government. Health insurance in Laos currently only covers 20% of citizens, with less than 15% of the nation’s poor having access to health insurance. With basic necessities like food and shelter existing as one’s biggest priority, healthcare becomes an afterthought for those who cannot afford it.

Recent Advancements in Healthcare

In 2016, domestic allocation for healthcare was 5.9% which is lower than the goal of 9% of general government spending. Despite the lack of funding for Laos’ healthcare system, there have been advancements made in more recent years. According to the World Health Organization, “over the past 10 years, the health of the Laotian population improved significantly,” which has allowed the life expectancy at birth to reach 66 years in 2015.

One effective way to measure the health of a country like Laos is by looking at the mortality and life-expectancy rates. The mortality and life-expectancy rates have decreased and risen respectively due to the reported vaccination coverage. In the 2000s, 82.5 infant deaths per 1000 live births and 5.46 maternal deaths per 1000 live births were reported. Since then, the MMR, or maternal mortality ratio, has seen a reduction by more than 75%, meaning both mother and child death rates have improved. Laos was given praise for their tremendous reduction of maternal mortality rates, as Laos was the “third fastest country…between 2000 and 2013” to achieve the feat.

Laotian Health Policies

Adding policies to Laos’ healthcare system has been beneficial in the past years. A major policy implemented in 2005 called the Law on Health Care allowed for Laos to significantly improve the country’s healthcare system. This policy guarantees that all citizens of Laos be given equitable and quality health care so that everyone can “effectively contribute to the protection and development of the nation.” Financially struggling health patients are awarded free medical care if they have been certified “with the regulations of the relevant organization.” This is a step forward for Laotian healthcare, as those who are struggling the most are able to have healthcare guaranteed and one less financial obstacle to worry about.

Similarly, Laos has also implemented different healthcare programs for different income groups, to increase coverage for a broader cross-section of individuals. The State Authority for Social Security is healthcare used for civil servants, the Social Security Office is for those who are employees of state and private enterprises, the Community-based Health Insurance is for those who are informal-sector workers, and lastly, the Health Equity Funds is for the impoverished and provides maternal and child health services at no cost.

Another major policy that made advancement in Laos is the 2008 National Nutrition Policy. This healthcare policy aims to help with “the reduction of malnutrition among all ethnic groups and decreasing associated…mortality risks.” The most vulnerable groups such as women and children have a better fighting chance at surviving during childbirth. Lao children “are exclusively breastfed from 0-5 months,” which means that establishing the National Nutrition Policy was a crucial development, as babies get their nutrition from mothers and mothers need nutrition to nourish their young ones. By enabling and ensuring a baseline nutrition level be met in Laos, the country can take a step forward in healthcare and continue to promote healthy habits as a whole.

-Karina Wong

Photo: Pixabay

Like Cambodia and Vietnam, the country of Laos is located in Southeast Asia. Being a landlocked country means that much of its water resources come from the Mekong River. Water sanitation has been an issue in the past, and now widespread action is being taken. There are many organizations that are coming together to bring clean, usable water throughout Laos. Here are 10 facts about water sanitation in Laos.

10 Facts About Water Sanitation in Laos

  1. The Creation of WASH FIT: In 2017, The World Health Organization partnered with UNICEF to create WASH FIT, which stands for “Water and Sanitation for Health Facility Improvement Tool.” Participants involved go into different hospitals to hold training programs and assess the current sanitation situation. The program provides information about safe water collection, along with supplies to build sanitation facilities. Through the WASH FIT program, sanitation in many Laos health centers and hospitals has increased by more than 50%. This has created a safer environment for both staff and patients.
  2. Increase in Safe Drinking Water: As of 2019, only 48% of schools in Laos had access to clean water. As more organizations – such as Abundant Water and Mercy Relief – continue to help better sanitation in Laos, the Lao PDR plan to keep increasing the percentage of individuals who have access to clean water.
  3. ICRC Brings Water to Urban Villages: Finding clean water and bringing it back to homes often requires strenuous work and a long trek. Of those traveling to get water, 79% are women. Many of the water sources that are used contain water-borne diseases, making much of the water in Laos dangerous to consume. The humanitarian group International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aids these women by drilling boreholes, bringing clean water closer to homes.
  4. Laos is Home to Third Largest River in Asia: Though the water from the Mekong River is not suitable for drinking, it is the only source of water for many of the surrounding villages. Because of this, many people suffer from water-borne diseases, such as schistosomiasis. To decrease cases of schistosomiasis, The World Health Organization and The Ministry of Health are working together to bring clean water and sanitation facilities to villages. This will limit the need for water from the Mekong River.
  5. Hanwha Launches Project to Clean Mekong River: Like many rivers globally, the Mekong River contains an enormous amount of harmful pollutants. The Hanwha group in Vietnam started a campaign called Clean Up Mekong. They use solar-powered boats clean up trash as they sail down the river. Though the cleanup started in Vietnam, it will directly affect many places. The river flows not only through Vietnam and Laos, but much of Asia including Cambodia and China.
  6. Clay Water Filters are Used to Produce Clean Drinking Water: Thanks to an Australian organization called Abundant Water, clay water filters have been created and distributed to 12 different villages. These filters are used to produce clean drinking water. The organization then taught a five-week training program to local potters on how to create clay filters of their own. As a result of Abundant Water’s work, over 22,000 people have accessed safe drinking water.
  7. Increase in Access to Sanitation Facilities: In more rural areas of Laos, individuals may not have access to sanitation facilities, causing open defecation to be a major concern. The open defecation rate is the second-highest in the area. This has caused an increase in the spread of harmful diseases. Lao PDR and the World Bank have been working to supply rural areas with facilities to reduce open defecation. As of 2015, there is a 28% increase in the availability of sanitation facilities in urban areas and 39% in rural areas.
  8. Further Water Availability for Schools: Schools have suffered firsthand from the lack of water. Mercy Relief arrived in 2012 to install water filtration systems for schools throughout Laos. Through this work, more children have access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities now. They also use the water to start gardens to grow fruits and vegetables for the children and school staff to take home or sell at local markets.
  9. More Than 40 Water-Gravity System Installations: World Vision International has aided in the effort to build water-gravity systems that bring fresh water to rural villages. As of 2014, World Vision has supplied local villages with 46 water-gravity systems to help improve sanitation in Laos and lower the spread of harmful diseases.
  10. Start of Water Management Committees in Rural Village: An organization called Plan International has gone into northern Laos, bringing water tanks, pipelines and other water supplies. The organization has also started water management committees that are in charge of maintaining the water facilities. By showcasing the great impact water management committees have had on this particular community, the hope is that companies assist as other villages carry out similar plans.

Though there is still a long way to go, progress has been made. Companies and organizations around the world are working together to improve water sanitation in Laos.

– Olivia Eaker
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Laos
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or Laos, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia. One of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the country has halved its poverty rate in the past 20 years. This is an impressive feat for the import-heavy country given that less than 5% of its land is suitable for agriculture. Poverty in Laos, however, remains a formidable issue. Laos faces a significant wealth gap between its capital Vientiane and poorer rural areas. Foreign aid and international efforts strive to reduce poverty in Laos.

The World Bank and the Poverty Reduction Fund

Created in 2002, the Poverty Reduction Fund (PRF) linked Laos to the international community through the World Bank, aiming to reduce poverty in Laos. The goals of the PRF have progressed over time, reducing poverty at a grassroots level and helping the Laotian poor achieve self-sustainability.

PRF has positively impacted more than 10,000 Laotian women and their families – self-help groups in different villages provide microloans, monthly household income has increased exponentially over the years and nutrition centers, roads and schools are constantly improving and serving Laotian villagers.

In December 2019, the World Bank approved additional funding of $22.5 million as a soft loan to Laos. This loan supports the Laotian government’s National Nutrition Strategy, which seeks to improve rural conditions by developing agricultural infrastructure.

The Asian Development Bank

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) grants loans, technical assistance and equity investments to promote development in Asian countries. The ADB has assisted poverty-reduction operations in Laos since 1968 and still finances assistance to the country. As of 2019, it has provided Laos with a total of $2.91 billion.

The ADB generally focuses on sustainable development in Laos but also funds education to achieve social and economic development. Because of its early involvement in Laos, the ADB’s efforts have yielded impressive results, having connected more than 20,000 households to electricity and water and providing education facilities to more than 100,000 Laotian students.

The United Nations Development Program’s Brand Laos Initiative

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) fights global poverty, seeking sustainable development and global equality. The UNDP has several ongoing projects in Laos supporting gender parity and government transparency. One notable initiative is a project it calls Brand Laos – a mission fighting for a unique Laotian brand and niche.

Brand Laos researches Laotian economic niches in order to create a unique marketable perspective for the country, finding viable products for farmers, producers and service providers. This economically benefits Laos, raising income for agricultural workers and producers. A Laotian niche could reduce poverty while bringing spurring development.

In particular, these types of projects seek high-quality products for international markets where consumers pay extra for ethically produced foreign products. Brand Laos has looked into products and services such as tea, silk-based clothing and ecotourism.

Conditions in rural Laotian households have improved drastically in recent decades, thanks to these international efforts. The Laotian national poverty rate was 46% in 1992 and fell to 23% in 2015. Additionally, households have greater access to electricity, water and even extraneous symbols of development like smartphones. With continued work, the poverty rate in Laos should continue to go down.

Maggie Sun
Photo: Flickr